Monday, April 28, 2008

george and john and...

What do John Lennon and George Harrison have in common?
Beyond the obvious, dimnut.
The greatest solo albums they released were their first and their last (no, i don't mean VIRGINS or WONDERWALL, nutbush). I don't think there is anything profound or mystical in this. The circumstances of their final albums were different, as George probably knew he was working on his last. Yet it's a curiosity worth mentioning, these wonderful bookends, John's PLASTIC ONO BAND and DOUBLE FANTASY, and George's ALL THINGS MUST PASS and BRAINWASHED. It's possible that casual fans don't know George's last album. Alternately buoyant and serene, irreverent and devout, it's wonderful and amazing from start to finish. How it got largely overlooked, even by Beatle fans, is a cause for head-shaking.
Paul, of course, won't follow this pattern, even if his final album is as good as BAND ON THE RUN. And Ringo, well Ringo is of course Ringo. It's been argued that nothing the Beatles did solo lived up to their output as a unit. This may be true, but that observation is also a loaded one, dripping with self-fulfilling prophecy and measuring something against a previous accomplishment when it ought be measured only against itself. I loved Paul's stuff first, because it was more prominent on the radio when i grew up. And then i heard "Imagine", and knew that John was not only my favorite Beatle, but also my favorite musician, period. Paul has been abused because he's not John. This is an attitude worthy of a moron, and it's time to put it to rest. Quantitatively and qualitatively, he's arguably the greatest songwriter of the twentieth century, in the company of only Cole Porter and Paul Simon. As for Ringo, bless him, i defy anyone to listen to the PHOTOGRAPH anthology, and tell me he didn't hold up his end of the legacy. It took a longer time for me to come around to George's music, because of the god stuff. But when i finally lifted that rock...well, i refuse to pick a favorite solo Beatle. There are some absolute wonderments of his you probably don't know. Like the demo version of "Let it Down" on the ALL THINGS 2001 reissue. Freed from Spector's overproduction, this song is all that one voice and one guitar could be. The CONCERT FOR GEORGE tribute album...i could write a whole blog on what Clapton, McCartney, and the others created that night. The songs "Here Comes the Moon", "Soft-hearted Hana", and above all the achingly beautiful "Someplace Else". And of course everything George did with the Wilburys. I wonder, had John lived, would he have created a similar band with Elton, Nillson, Bowie, Ringo, and maybe a wild card like Roger Waters?
The lads seem to be shuffling off this mortal coil at regular intervals. If this continues, we'll have one of them until 2040.
No wagering, please.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

director/producer

After five years in NY as an occasional actor and full time writer-dreamer, i'm returning to a familiar role: director/producer. Last night, Evan at the Lumber Theater greenlighted production of my script ROHTI SEX. Evan also shows great interest in having my other scripts produced.
In some ways the past five years, i've been avoiding producing my plays. Oh, there have been surface reasons...lack of cash to self-produce in this monied town...insisting on a circumstance wherein i can maintain creative control...but the truth is that i've only put minimal effort into producing or publishing. I think i needed the past five years to really explore being a writer. Also, i know that any producer's journey i embark upon may profoundly diminish my output as a writer. I have ten unproduced plays now, most of them products of my time in NY. The further along i go, the more and more i think that the most important contribution i can make to the world is as a writer. Not that i'll ever want to give up acting, but...it seems patently simple to me that to really affect people in the ways i wish, i'll never get there parroting other's words.
Or perhaps i'm just a good actor and a middling playwright, and will need the coming live productions to teach me that.
Either way, it sounds like fun.
(P.S. I'm sure there was a tiny element of humorous oversimplification in my comment about being middling...it's hard to imagine the amount of testimony that would be required for me to stop believing that what i have to give is as important and irreplaceable as that of anyone ever. Perhaps, however, i'll just have to settle for being the greatest blogger in the history of the universe.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Muppets from Space"

1999
-directed by Tim Hill
The end may be more than near. The film which may have put this quest to rest is MUPPETS FROM SPACE, the final theatrical release. If the subsequent straight-to-video offerings turn out as lifeless (we MIGHT watch them), then i'm done. It's tempting to not even write about SPACE, really, as it feels like picking on an idiot stepchild.
It starts out promisingly. The first sequence, Gonzo's ark nightmare, with a delightful F. Murray Abraham as Noah, is pretty great. And wakeup time in the Muppet house was okay too. But the film quickly settles into mediocrity. It's not even the kind of mediocrity previous sequels had delved into. MFS feels like the original producers have all been replaced by those hypothetical doofuses they had pulled off the street to voice Statler and Waldorf in TREASURE ISLAND. Brian Henson did indeed abdicate the director's chair to Hill, a man with no Muppet experience and almost no resume (huh?). In Tim's defense (not that he earned any), the writing is worthy of an after-school special. Hill returns to the tradition of a multitude of name actors in supporting roles, and with the exception of Abraham and the sublime Ray Liotta, this is a bad choice, the performances ranging from flat (Rob Schneider) to painful (Kathy Griffin). A couple of kids from DAWSON'S CREEK get in there too. This is the first film to abandon original music. Instead we're given recycled pop songs (huh?). Even though none of the music in the other sequels came close to the original, they'd at least been trying. I hate to invoke something that will just seem like name-calling, but this film felt like nothing else so much as an SNL film. A fun ten-minute idea that never should have been treated as more.
Nobody likes to end a monumental journey on a down note, so i'll patter for a moment. It should be understood that we've only been dealing with films that had the characters from the TV show. Other products like DARK CRYSTAL (pretty lame, and if you disagree you may not have tried to watch it as an adult) or LABYRINTH (the 49th best film of all time) don't fall within these parameters. I've never seen FOLLOW THAT BIRD or EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS, but as Kermit makes appearances, i may have to rectify that. Particularly EMMET, which Jim directed. It's also well-past time for the dvd release of lost treasures like The Jim Henson Hour, "The Muppets: A Celebration of Thirty Years", the episode of The Tonight Show that Kermit guest hosted, and the staggering multitude of Muppet TV specials that aired. Call your congresspeople.
So out whimpers a quest. The curse of creating something amazing is that everything that follows will always be measured against it. This is at once natural, and unfair. Particularly when new efforts explore different directions, as Jim and crew did. These films, however, brought us the further adventures of our heroes from the first movie, so any abuse the creators receive, well, they stepped right up and invited it, there's no way around that. It is of course obvious to say that none of the sequels came anywhere near the original. That's the given. The deeper truth is that you can't really include any of the sequels in a serious discussion of Muppets onscreen. A recap...
THE MUPPET MOVIE *****
THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER **
THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN *
A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL ***
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND **
MUPPETS FROM SPACE *
Take away the pity star i gave Manhattan (or leave it in, either way), and crunch some numbers. "Ouch" is the only word that comes to mind. But golly, i almost forgot that i promised myself a reward at the end of the journey, a viewing of the original. So really, all is well in the world. Cue the balcony...
STATLER: So, how'd you like the quest?
WALDORF: Quest? I thought this was Thanksgiving Eve.
STATLER: Thanksgiving Eve?
WALDORF: I've never seen so many turkeys run by! (laughter; a horn splats)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tombstone

1) How many men had Wyatt Earp killed when he stepped into the OK Corral?
2) T/F Morgan speaks latin.
3) T/F Ike Clanton is as dumb as he looks.
4) T/F Frank McLaury is a daisy.
5) Who carried a walking stick into the OK Corral?
6) T/F Tyler knew that Doc was back in town.
7) Who is Ringo’s huckleberry?
8) T/F Wyatt heard Ike the first time he said that law didn’t go round there.
Bonus Point: name Tombstone's four Johns.

0-2 correct: I want to play faro with you
3-4 correct: Not as dumb as you look
5-6 correct: You're a force to be reckoned with
7-8 correct: Auntie Anne pretzel on me
9 correct: You're the one
(E-mail me for answers. Address in blog profile.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

peace of gaye

Quick! Who can tell me what Marvin Gaye's final two recordings were?
"Savage in the Sack", and "Masochistic Beauty", from the posthumous album DREAM OF A LIFETIME. This album has been debated and trashed, and for possibly good reasons. It's slapdash, and it's possible that Marvin never intended for any of it to be released. Some have even postulated that Marvin only recorded those two particular songs for in-studio shock value.
But oh my, do i love 'em. I love the thought that they were an alternate exploration of ideas begun in "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing". Any speculation that Marvin didn't intend to release them does not impress me.
They are so erotic that many will find them disgusting and indecent.
It's indecency like that which i adore, when it's honest. The disc came to me through a brother who works at the Tavern on the Green restaurant. He discovered the disc had been playing at the restaurant for a week or two before a customer complained. No employee claimed knowledge of how the disc ended up in rotation. But listen to "Masochistic Beauty", and i dare you to not laugh at the thought of this song playing to patrons at one of the hoity-toitiest restaurants in NYC.
I wish i could send you to a site which has the lyrics. But i could not find such a link. Doesn't it strike you as strange that one would have trouble finding ANY lyrics of an artist of Marvin's stature? It makes me wonder whether the guardians of Gaye's legacy would rather these songs be swept under the rug. And it's not just that the lyrics are compelling and controversial, the songs themselves are great. But lordy, the words just simmer and sear. Particularly "Masochistic Beauty". It's so audaciously bawdy you keep saying to yourself, "Did he just SAY that?" Strong enough stuff to send churchfolk to their knees (and not in the good way, although it might have that effect too). One can't help imagining Marvin's minister father hearing this song, and spinning into the horrible mindset that left the world without a man we very much needed. There's no reason to believe that actually happened, and it's probably simplistic to think about "the straw that broke the camel's back". Most murders are not simple, and that must go a thousand times for a parent taking the life of their grown child.
Has any human ever walked the line between the sacred and the profane as movingly as Marvin?
There is one more song of his that you've possibly never heard, "Piece of Clay", which was released only on the 1961-1984 MASTER anthology. It might be the most moving song he ever recorded. A plea for understanding and tolerance, it should be more chilling when you realize how he died...but it's not really, it's just so beautiful and universal and sad and true.
Everybody wants someone to be their own piece of clay.
I love you all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

table for costner

I revisited a memory from my youth the other day, the 1982 movie TABLE FOR FIVE. I had very sweet memories of it. It's the story of absentee father J.P. Tannen (Jon Voight) who takes his three children on Mediterranean cruise, to try to build a better relationship with them. During the trip, J.P. and the kids have a rough time co-existing. Back home, the mother dies in a car accident, and J.P. faces the reality of returning the kids to their well-off and well-intentioned stepdad, played by talented Richard Crenna.
Seen through adult eyes, the movie isn't quite as seamless as in memory. I'd certainly include it in a discussion of the highlights of Voight's career, though. Not a 5-star effort, but nice.
And it's impossible to watch the second half with a straight face.
Because of Kevin Costner.
In 1982, he was still a couple years away from starring roles. But he's in this movie, and you'll never forget it.
He's an extra. A featured extra, to be sure. He even appears in the cast list as "newlywed man", because he has a background line or two. But in the second half of the film, he keeps on appearing, until all you can do is laugh. It's possible that if you don't notice him the first time, you might never. But once you spot him, the movie becomes all about him. Somewhere in this, there's a great drinking game, i reckon.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

pornography

Pornography. The world itself is troubling.
Right out of the gate, we're dealing with a pejorative. Which is troubling to those who know that the human body is anything but dirty or indecent. Come to think of it, the rise of the word "erotica" has probably stemmed from the desire to destigmatize sexuality and the human form. So perhaps we are heading to a day when "pornography" will refer only to things that are truly indecent ("exciting" action movies that have body counts in the hundreds?). But the problem with that is...who decides what's "indecent"? If somebody enjoys images that someone else finds "dirty", but no one is getting hurt, who's qualified to sit in judgment?
With the body-count films, an argument is made that watching a violent film allows us to live vicariously, releasing our animal violence in a way that gets no one hurt. Similarly, the thinking goes, if we watch sexual movies, we'll be less needful to go out and have sexual relations that might pose a threat to the fabric of our society. Hm.
Or do violent images merely desensitize us to real violence, the horrific conclusion my reasonable younger mind came to?
Do images of violence and sexuality make us more violent and sexual, or less?
For my own part, i loved playing army when i was a kid. Neighborhood wargames. A shout of "bang" meant you fired, and anyone "killed" had to take themself out of play, until one team emerged victorious. I was good at it. Nobody was better. Later, the toy guns were replaced by super soakers. Wonderful times.
Was i sublimating violent needs, or just having a good time? Some concerned parents have argued against children having toys of violence at all, a position i've been very sympathetic to. But for myself, i would have rebelled against anyone who tried to shut down our wargames. Did these games turn me into a violent human? By any measure, the answer is a profound "no". I've never killed, never struck another person in anger. I've even rejected eating animals, in part because i'm not comfortable inflicting pain or death on any thinking, feeling creature. I'm a pacifist who has always been ready to face jail rather than kill. I generally don't play wargames as an adult, but this hasn't diminished my pacifism. So have i merely transferred my sublimated urges into onscreen violence? Possibly. I've always avoided slasher films, or films that glamorize violence. For instance, i loved RESERVOIR DOGS, but found KILL BILL to be gratuitous and horrific. But for some, DOGS was the one that crossed the line. I also find most violent video games to be disturbing and artless. But i do adore some films that have violence. TOMBSTONE, for example, because of the artistic expression and human realism. But hm, i also love ALIENS. Not much human realism there. I'm bothered by films like TOP GUN, with their flag-waving and childlike glorification of violence. But i love some war films, like PATTON and THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN. Now, as i watch these films, do i feel any sort of violent "release"? I want to say NO, but i suppose it's possible that on a subconscious level, things are going on i'm not aware of. One way of addressing this question is to project a world free of violent images. Would i feel a psychological frustration, and seek another avenue in which to let my violence "breathe"? I strongly want to say no, but...i'm not 100% sure.

Monday, April 7, 2008

AWESOMEST ALBUMS

A great album is one in which the non-singles are cherished as much as (or more) than the famous songs. In no particular order...
SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, The Beatles
HOTEL CALIFORNIA, Eagles
SYNCHRONICITY, The Police
WISH YOU WERE HERE, Pink Floyd
THE JAZZ SINGER, neil diamond
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC AND THE BROWN DIRT COWBOY, elton john
BITCHES BREW, miles davis
AMUSED TO DEATH, roger waters
THRILLER, michael jackson
BAD LOVE, randy newman
SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, stevie wonder
GRACELAND, paul simon
BRIAN WILSON, brian wilson
SMALL CHANGE, tom waits
BAND ON THE RUN, paul mccartney
PARADISE THEATER, Styx
PETE, pete seeger
THIS IS SPINAL TAP, Spinal Tap
PET SOUNDS, The Beach Boys
THE MUPPET MOVIE, soundtrack
GENESIS, Genesis
TAPESTRY, carole king
SO, peter gabriel
VERITIES AND BALDERDASH, harry chapin
WHAT’S GOING ON, marvin gaye
GIANT STEPS, john coltrane
SO MUCH SHOUTING/SO MUCH LAUGHTER, ani difranco
ABBEY ROAD, The Beatles
THE RUTLES, The Rutles
PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY, AND THYME, Simon & Garfunkel
TRAVELING WILBURYS VOL. 1, Traveling Wilburys
FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE!, peter frampton
TEN SUMMONER’S TALES, sting
ALL THINGS MUST PASS, george harrison
A MIGHTY WIND, soundtrack
SUNSHINE ON LEITH, The Proclaimers
WHO'S NEXT, The Who
KIND OF BLUE, miles davis
ENDLESS FLIGHT, leo sayer
FACE VALUE, phil collins
PURPLE RAIN, prince
INSIDE JOB, don henley
KEB’ MO’, keb’ mo’
CHAMELEON, maynard ferguson
BLOODSUGARSEXMAGIK, Red Hot Chili Peppers
TWELVE SONGS, neil diamond
52nd STREET, billy joel
NECK AND NECK, mark knopfler and chet atkins
LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL, chuck mangione
GO INSANE, lindsay buckingham
FULL CIRCLE, Birtles Shorrock Goble
BREAKFAST IN AMERICA, Supertramp
EVEN NOW, barry manilow
MISSING, PRESUMED HAVING A GOOD TIME, The Notting Hillbillies
PLASTIC ONO BAND, john lennon
THE WALL, Pink Floyd
OLDER, george michael
THE MAN COMES AROUND, johnny cash
MONTY PYTHON SINGS!, Monty Python
ISHTAR, soundtrack
LOST AND GONE FOREVER, Guster
FAUST, randy newman

Saturday, April 5, 2008

"Muppet Treasure Island"

1996
-directed by Brian Henson
The fourth Muppet sequel played a central part in the birth of this quest (although "sequel" feels like a not-entirely accurate term, as the only through line in the films is the characters). When i picked up this dvd, i had never seen it, and it is a reflection of the old muppetaversionintuition that it then sat unwatched for years.
And it was indeed, pretty darn bad. Not "i hate it" bad, but...resolutely, indisputably flat, depressingly forced, a shadow of the magic that once was.
With the exception of one scene, but we'll get back to that later.
One actually feels sorry for Kermit, watching this film. You can see in his eyes, in his body language, that he only did this for the money. I'm joking, i guess...i know it's ridiculous to imbue a glorified sock puppet with human characteristics. But good god, you tell me that frog isn't sleepwalking through this turkey! You make a clip collage of actors doing "paycheck" movies (Deniro in ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, Julia or Hopper in those video game movies, Affleck in PAYCHECK), splice in Kermit's scenes, and it will all feel quite natural. Admittedly, he nearly came alive during the climactic scene. But generally, the feeling of "that's not Kermit" was all too alive and well. The human actors did their best. Henson went back to having "name" actors in supporting roles. Billy Connolly is nearly very funny, Jennifer Saunders is nearly funny, and it's hard to imagine an actor giving a more game performance than Tim Curry, as Long John Silver. He's believable, he's...well, i struggle to say more, because what he ultimately is, is void of any "zowie" quotient. I don't think any of the actors could have given more than they did, though. Well...perhaps Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins. Through little fault of his own, his character is the weakest link in the film. Was he perhaps a little too old? It's funny, in the film commentary Henson tries to compliment Bishop, but it comes out as maudlin and hysterically left-handed. He says that Bishop was actually the first "Jim" they auditioned, and they then proceeded to see thousands of other actors before coming back to him. It was meant to come across as "silly us, we had it right with the very first one", but instead sounds like a desperate search to find someone, anyone better than this guy. Part of it is his singing voice, it's too high. Which, one discovers, was exactly the problem. Production of a movie as complex as this takes a long time, and by the time they got to primary filming, it was a year after casting, and Kevin's pubescent voice was cracking. So the singing vocals they had to use were his rehearsal vocals from the year before. The end effect was just the feeling of something being off.
But i do not lay the fault for this film's failure at Kevin's feet, bless him. The feeling of flatness extended far beyond. And i don't wish to crucify anyone - the average viewer has no conception of how MIND-BOGGLINGLY complicated it is to create something like Muppet magic, especially on a scale as ambitious as this. There are a million and three factors that go into just one single moment. The other Muppet performances were also pretty uninspiring. A forced Fozzie, Rizzo with a still-too-big part, Gonzo unfortunately yoked to Rizzo, Piggy rather adrift (an apt metaphor), and i'm now resigned to Rowlf being gone forever. Most notably painful were Statler and Waldorf. These two had been the best of the original Muppet world, and here it felt like the director had pulled some uninterested actors off the street, played one old clip for them, and then said "action". On the positive side, Sam the Eagle as Mr. Arrow was...pretty cool. And Sweetums had one nice moment.
And...
There was one scene, one character, that was so off-the-charts funny and perfect that for a moment, you were time-lifted back to a childhood dreamland. How this one scene, surrounded by a sea of haplessness, could exist...i know not, but it happened. Blind Pew. A new Muppet character (but not entirely new, for fans of the original show). He has only one scene, but he grabs that moment, and...words fail me, it's that wonderful. Jerry Nelson, the original voice of Robin and The Count and others, reaches into the universe of magic and we are once again reminded what a beautiful, amazing place this world can be. Blind Pew lifts this film one star rating above what it would otherwise have been.
And googily moogily, i never imagined i would use this reference, but the merit is too startling to ignore. I give you Blind Pew, recipient of the 1996 Cave Girl Award.
There's little else to say. Forgettable music sure didn't help the cause. Strangely, i discovered that there is one very entertaining way to view this movie: with the director's commentary on. Brian gives a wonderful window into the Muppet world.
2 stars.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

cave girl award

Ewwwffh...
That's my review of CAVE GIRL, a 1985 comedy. Or travesty, rather. The writing is putridly, insipidly juvenile. I found this film reading an Amazon.com review which called it "stupid, but charming" (they were halfway right). Taken with a desire for a slice of 80s camp, and more to the point, curious to see a beautiful blonde bathing cave girl...
Why did i even watch this longer than ninety seconds? I could actually only stomach the second half in fast forward. I mean, it was just...it was sooooo...i don't even know whether the acting was as bad as the writing. It probably was, but the writing was so bad that it could have swallowed up any number of promising acting careers. One could only feel a deep sense of shame that people actually had to say these lines aloud. The only possible reason to watch the film, the naked cave girl frivolity, was quite underwhelming as well. I recommend this film to no one, i repeat NO ONE. So why am i committing minutes of my life to writing about it? Because there was an amazing performance buried underneath the awfulness. The lead actress, Cynthia Thompson, whose career started and ended in the 80s. What a terrible shame. She's one of the fortunate actors not forced to speak English, except for that which she parrots back to our time traveling high school geek hero (who is thirty, like all the other high schoolers). It doesn't hit you at first, but at a certain point her performance reaches out and gobsmacks you. She is just so unaffected and silly in the scenes where he tries to teach her English. Fed the most retch-inducing lines in the world, she somehow radiates pure endearment and funniness. Every other actor was just reading lines. It's hard to realize any of this with your stomach churning, but Cynthia, if you're still out there (her IMDB site didn't reveal much), bless you for all you did. We shall invent a new award based on your work: transcendant performance in an unwatchable film. The Cave Girl Award.
And it strikes me now, the only reason i would ever have any human watch this film. For i reaffirm, i am in NO WAY attempting to entice anyone into watching this. If you ever do meet someone who has voluntarily watched it, i want you to peer very deep and long into their soul. But...if i were teaching acting students who had professional aspirations, i would make them watch it from beginning to end, then ask them how badly they want this profession. Are they prepared to do a film of this caliber, to put food on the table? I would then make each of them say the worst line of the film, with 100% commitment.
Thank you, Cynthia. You deserved a million times better.

too busy being fabulous?!?

I don't fucking believe it. I was in the grocery store today, and the Eagles song "Busy Being Fabulous" played over the PA system. I can only assume this means that this is the second single from their new album, LONG ROAD OUT OF EDEN.
Are you kidding me with that?
What the fuck, that's one of the lamest cuts on the album. What the hell is wrong with these people? Are you telling me that the Eagles don't have the cred yet to pick their own singles? Because i will not believe that they chose that song themselves. Good god no. It's a pretty good album. Could have been fantastic if they'd made it a single, not a double. But lord, am i the only sane person in the world? There are two fantastic cuts, the title track and "What Do I Do with My Heart". Those are the singles. A moron would...well, okay, obviously a moron wouldn't perceive it, but WHY have they put a moron in charge of selecting singles? The first single, "How Long", was a pretty mung-brained choice too. It's not a bad song, but it's at best the fourth or fifth single. Grumble grumble...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"The Muppet Christmas Carol"

1992
-directed by Brian Henson
I approached this with equal parts excitement and dread.
Excitement because Paul Williams' music was returning to the Muppet universe, and to a lesser extent because Michael Caine could conceivably pull off a great Scrooge.
Dread because this was the first Muppet film without Jim. It's not entirely pessimistic to wonder whether all Muppet creation should have stopped, on that summer day that he died. Or at least anything involving characters he himself had brought to life. I wonder what sort of discussions were held by those directing the Muppet universe, in that year of 1990? Was there agreement on the right way to continue his work? Because what came out in the years since has been at best lacking, and at worst cringeworthy. I suppose i'm thinking mostly of whomever had to become the "new" Kermit. It may have been just one fellow, Steve Whitmire to this day. I remember the first time i heard the new Kermit, and inside there was this feeling of "oh no no no". It was almost as painful as that childhood day when they foisted a different Ronald McDonald on us, a moment that probably ranks as the single greatest moment of disillusionment in my life. I actually heard Jim's real voice in an interview for the first time yesterday. Great googily, that man sounded like Kermit! I've not followed Muppet creations closely as an adult, but occasional exposures seemed, at best...a touch sad. Because that wasn't really Kermit. I mean, it's not all gloom and doom...i do know that KERMIT UNPIGGED is kind of a pretty great album.
Anyway...
The movie began, my dread probably outweighing excitement.
And a strange thing happened.
Ten minutes went by before i remembered that Jim was gone. Ten minutes before i remembered that this was not his voice at all. Ten minutes. Astonishing. Ten minutes of laughter and smiles, a little wave of which continued throughout the movie.
Director Brian Henson made interesting choices, and amazingly seemed more prepared to helm his first feature film than either Jim or Frank had been. Instead of relying on a group of known actors to play supporting roles as had been done previously, Caine was the only name actor. And it worked. Lead roles were given to new muppets, particularly the ghosts. And while none of them resonated with all the old magic, they worked fine, and indeed i wondered whether having "old" muppets play all the supporting parts might not have felt a little dusty. Caine himself was a big part of why the movie worked. There were a couple of his scenes i wish they'd shot another take of, but generally he turned in a performance that will be remembered as one of his best. The music wasn't up to William's work for the original, but was definitely a cut above the previous sequels. I had originally been angry at Disney for its recent editing, in particular for taking out the song "When Love Is Gone". Some felt it revealed the shabbier aspects of the Disney worldview to leave out an authentic but sad song. For once though, i can't fault Disney. That song is pretty flat, and i wouldn't have missed it. Rowlf was again conspicuously a non-presence, but it says something about how well this movie works that i even wished for some replacement performer to try to bring him to life. The hero of the movie, the award for best performance goes to...Beaker! What joy. After he'd been virtually a non-presence in the previous sequels, his scenes here are the greatest treasure of the film.
3 stars.